Oy. We were at the dinner table, discussing puberty (as you do). The six-year-old strongly expressed her desire never to “born a baby,” and said she never will, because there are pills that can keep you from getting pregnant. (We’ve discussed this particular issue before.) Then the older kid started listing other birth control methods. Like, really specifically, and with authority. I don’t have a problem with her knowing about these things, but I haven’t gotten to that level of detail with her, and I don’t think it’s in any of her books. So I asked where she learned all that. I think it helped that I had more of an admiring tone than a worried or judgmental one.
So she told me about encountering a link to the “Murry” show after watching a Minecraft video, and being so shocked and disturbed by the title she felt compelled to watch it. And that led to watching a lot more. Once she described stories of tweens having group sex, 14-year-old prostitutes, and nine-year-olds smoking and drinking, I figured out which show she was talking about.
And actually, it led to a great discussion. As I told her, this is one of the reasons why we’ve told her not to go exploring on YouTube. Because I would rather that she learn about normal, healthy behavior before being exposed to what is really just a modern-day freak show. Maury is designed to shock and titillate, and provide fodder for that impulse we have to judge others. It’s pretty much the worst sex-ed material you could find outside of porn. But, I was pretty impressed at her ability to digest the information and process it into useful caveats about sex and drugs. Of course, she is also naturally cautious, thoughtful, and eager to please authority figures, so that probably helped. But her overall reaction was shock, and a passionate determination never to do things like that.
I think this important conversation was only possible due to two major factors:
- We mostly avoid punitive discipline. Not completely, but I do try to adhere to “connection before correction,” in an effort to keep my kids comfortable coming to me in situations that they worry might get them in trouble – whether that’s spilling something on the furniture, watching inappropriate videos, or (eventually) something bad or dangerous happening involving cars, alcohol, sex, or whatever.
- Before encountering these videos, my kid knew quite a bit about sex, from a loving, factual, normalized perspective. I strongly feel that the best way to approach sex education is to treat it like all other education – answer questions as they come up, in an honest and developmentally appropriate way. I found It’s So Amazing to be a wonderful resource, which I could use for visual reference as I shared information with my pre-literate children, and then as an age-appropriate resource to be used by reading age children on their own.
I believe that pretty much everyone’s kids are going to run across some puzzling, worrisome, or disturbing content before we would consider them ready to handle it. Having so much information at our fingertips makes it nigh inevitable. It’s worth thinking about how your parenting might not just limit the chances of such an occurrence, but also give your child space to ask for your help if it does happen. I feel like if I’d been a bit less connection-focused (I’ve been working on minimizing punishment lately), or if my kids didn’t already have a firm track record of me talking about squirm-inducing subjects in a matter-of-fact and open way, or if my daughter had had no context whatsoever in which to place the extreme spectacle she saw, she probably would have simply clammed up, hidden it from me, and worried about it on her own.
When I was shopping for a “birds and bees” book to help explain to my 4yo about my pregnancy, I read a lot of reviews on Amazon. I settled on the book It’s So Amazing (which is aimed at kids 7 and up) because it was quite comprehensive, while still having a very matter-of-fact, friendly tone. Well, a lot of the reviews of this and other sex education books bemoan the premature robbing of innocence that would occur if 7 year olds were to read about such things.
A child who takes the book and begins to read will learn about body changes and babies being born, but many in the age 8-10 age group are not ready to learn about intercourse.
Homosexuals, abortions, intercourse, & HIV – I don’t think these topics need to be graphically and in-depth discussed with kids under 10. A simple answer is more in line with what they’d like to hear, not the depth of this information, which is more than they want to know when younger. I think they ought to live innocently a little longer.
I didn’t think this book was appropriate for my daughter who is almost 11 — My husband and I read the book together and agreed that it will have to wait until she gets her period and/or is almost 12. It is a good book though, but not for now! It gets a little too detailed about sex
My MIL bought this book for my 11 year old daughter and I was VERY frustrated at the content of the book. In my opinion it is a soft porn. [Regarding It’s Not the Stork, for ages 4 and up.]
If “kids” are taught that is pleasurable and tickles etc. do you not think they will be starting sex at an early age? [Regarding Where Did I Come From, for ages 6 and up.]
Discussions about sex ed in general often appeal to “letting our kids keep their innocence” as well:
We believe it is right to let children be children as long as they can, and we believe it is wrong to rush children into adulthood. There is no faster way to rob a child of the innocence of childhood than with inappropriate sex education. [This is from the Ezzo’s sex non-education curriculum, entitled Reflections of Moral Innocence, wherein they decry use of proper anatomical words and encourage use of vague flower analogies to “teach” about sex.]
Well you know what? I don’t want my kids to be innocent. I don’t want to protect them from information about sex, even scary and squicky information. Of course I wish they could stay innocent of scary and squicky stuff, but they do not live in an innocent, safe world, so it’s my responsibility to teach them about these things. As a parent, one of my primary burdens is to lift the veil of innocence from my children’s eyes so they can recognize the scary and squicky and defend themselves from it.
Case in point: a third grade teacher in Oklahoma has evidently been putting her students on display for one or more pedophiles. When I read that, I cannot express how my blood boils, especially as the mother of a third grade girl. But you know what made it possible for this behavior to continue for months and months? Innocence. Those kids had no idea what twisted desires some adults have, and that the kids might be sex objects to some perverts. Lacking context about the scary, squicky world, most of the girls at the teacher’s “Christmas party” gleefully put on bra and panty sets and performed a cheerleading routine for the video camera. It makes me feel like puking when I think about it.
And the best way I can think of to protect my third grader is to read this news story to her and discuss what happened. Some of you are now clutching your pearls at the thought, but get this: she already knows that some adults want to do sexual things with children. When I talked to her about it, her head didn’t explode. She didn’t become a rampaging sex fiend either. But I’ll tell you what did happen – she became a bit more likely to recognize and fend off inappropriate advances if someone should make them, and also more likely to come tell me about it.
Of course I could preserve her innocence and protect her by never letting her go to a friend’s birthday party unless I’m there (could be awkward at sleepovers), never letting her participate in sports or extracurricular activities, indeed, never letting her attend school for fear that some subhuman fuckstick would try to pimp her out over the internet. I could be the perfect helicopter parent and shield my child from all danger, and all growth, fun, and challenge.
Me, I’m opting for getting rid of that blindfold called “innocence,” a little bit at a time, and on my terms.